Fantasia 2019 review: MASTER Z: IP MAN LEGACY delivers the perfect spin-off

Not all unrequested spinoffs are bad, but they seem hard to do well. To what extent does a spin-off arbitrarily adhere to the tone of its predecessors? How much does he do his own thing? What if his own thing sucks? Everybody’s laughing at The Bourne Legacybut it’s a good action movie except when it tries to cross paths with the Thick headed world. But without these intersections, what is the point?

Master Z: The Legacy of the IP Man manages to overcome this enigma with his own self-confidence. In the absence of Donnie Yen and following the events of a IP man 3 character, the film manages to honor the setting and themes of the original series while delivering a completely different kind of martial arts film that’s quite entertaining on its own.

Facing defeat after his private match with IP Man in IP man 3, Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang) gives up martial arts and tries to lead a quiet life as a trader with his young and super adorable son. He runs into some local mobsters and the plot pretty much takes off from there. The whole thing gets convoluted enough to include three or four (or five!) villains depending on how you count them, and a great commentary on Western influence in Hong Kong, but at its core, it’s pretty much about a guy who was taken in by thugs one day and now has to fix things.

From the outset, things are broader than in the films of Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen. Master Z is happy to exchange the serene dignity of these for pleasure. There’s more fights, the bad guys are way more evil, and the movie is packed with surprisingly good humor. All of this would probably put the series to shame, but their winning execution sees it succeed with the different formula instead. It feels like IP Man’s Hong Kong, just in a completely different neighborhood.

Zhang offers another type of hero. He’s not Donnie Yen, of course, but his relationship with his son, combined with his relative readiness to fight, makes him quite likable. Plus, he’s backed by an incredible cast that includes Michelle Yeoh, Dave Bautista, Tony Jaa, and even the great Xing Yu.

The film suffers all the more as it tries to recreate the magic of the past. Bautista’s inclusion as a gigantic westerner whose fighting style might be fun to match against Wing Chun is a bit too similar to Mike Tyson’s incredible fight in IP man 3, though Bautista is a much better actor than Tyson and his character’s penchant for cooking steaks is a curious hoot. But his fight scenes just aren’t as good.

This is rarely a problem though. For most of Master Z, we move from one martial arts scene to another, many of which have their own clear identity – from a battle of Wuxia among the neon signs to a stylish (and funny) contest between the right hands of Yeoh and Zhang and a glass of whiskey. There’s always something fun going on in Master Z: The Legacy of the IP Man and with this cast and under the direction of the legendary Woo-Ping Yeun, you know it’s all going to be worth your time, even if it’s a spin-off.

Kimberly B. Nguyen